When freedom of information and transparency are stifled, then bad decisions are often made and heartbreaking tragedies occur – too often on a breathtaking scale that can leave societies wondering: how did this happen? Think about the recent debates on torture, assassination by unmanned aircraft, secret warrants and detentions, intelligence and surveillance courts, military commissions, immigration detention centers and the conduct of modern warfare. These policies affect millions of people around the world every day and can affect anyone – wives, children, fathers, aunts, boyfriends, cousins, friends, employees, bosses, clergy and even career politicians – at any time. It is time that we bring a health dose of sunlight to them.
I believe that when the public lacks even the most fundamental access to what its governments and militaries are doing in their names, then they cease to be involved in the act of citizenship. There is a bright distinction between citizens, who have rights and privileges protected by the state, and subjects, who are under the complete control and authority of the state.
In the past decade or so there have been an increasing number of clashes – both in the public and behind the scenes – between the US government, the news media and those in the public who want fair access to records that pertain to the implementation of policies by their government.
After the establishment of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice in 2006, there have been more national security and criminal investigations into journalists and prosecutions of their sources than at any other time in the nation’s memory. Eight people have been charged under provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917 for giving documents and information to the media by this administration alone – including me, former CIA officers Jeffrey Sterling and John Kiriakou, and the former Department of State analyst Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.